Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Da Capo: Starting the “Dance” All Over

By any practical standard, this is a complete waste of my time.

Having only just finished the twelfth and final novel in Anthony Powell’s cycle “A Dance to the Music of Time,” I’ve now read the first volume, A Question of Upbringing (left), all over again and have plunged into the second, A Buyer’s Market.

I figure that if I re-read one book a month, I can redance the whole series in 2013. It’s January and I’m already well into volume 2.

What gives?

Part of it, I think, is a desire to take my mind and heart off the emotionally draining experience of writing a memoir about the biggest questions in my life. Part of it is taking my mind off other things, like even the “crisis” now on in our parish. Part of it is the pride and vanity of taking on sentences like this one and smiling to myself as if to say, Yeah I get that:

“Short explained that Sillery’s parties had for years played an established rôle in the life of the university; and that the staleness of the rock-buns, which formed a cardinal element of these at-homes, had become so hackneyed a subject for academical humour that even Sillery himself would sometimes refer to the perennially unpalatable essence of these fossils salvaged from some forgotten cake-world.”

Those who know something about me and my background might snark that I am attracted to this sophisticated tale of upper-crust “public school boys” grown to manhood and beyond, a cycle that begins with four friends at an Eton-like establishment and follows their dance through life while more than 300 subsidiary characters enter and exit to the tune of Time’s lyre. (You see, you can’t read Powell without picking up some of his preciousness.)

Well, snark away.

Really that’s not why I am re-reading from the beginning—while simultaneously listening to the novels courtesy of Audible. (I s*** you not.)

I think that for once in each person’s life he or she should devote as much time, relatively speaking, to reading something as the author devoted to writing it. Powell wrote the “Dance” over a twenty-five year period, roughly the first twenty-five years of my life, 1951–1975. I was only tipped off to his work however in recent years when I began exchanging notes with a book-business friend about our “favorite long novel.”

I said Infinite Jest. 

He said “A Dance to the Music of Time.”

I said, what?

Of course, I had to find out what that was.

So now I’m reading, or dancing, once around again, twice if you count listening. And I will be blogging about the dance as I go.

You can read or ignore and snark at will, but I suggest you at least do this one thing: Plunge deeply into some book or books that you love. Read them several times. There is a rich joy here that Evelyn Wood never dreamed of.


  1. Just a note to say how much I am enjoying your blog postings. "A Dance To the Music of Time" is one of my all-time-favorite "long books" as well. I am currently enthralled by Dickens' "Bleak House", which clocks in at 900 plus pages--a perfect long book for the winter. By the way, you may be interested in this appreciation of Powell that appeared in the Hudson Reviw:

    Best regards,

    John Wing

    1. Thanks John. Would love to read anything you can send my way about Powell. Unfortunately that link to Pritchard seems a dead end. Either that or it's behind a pay window, but I get nothing clicking on it. With appreciation, WB

  2. Webster--Hi, sorry to hear that the link is not working. I found the link by googling "Anthony Powell" and "Hudson Review" -- it is in a PDF format, so it prints out nicely. It is from the HR 2005 issue, and is by the wonderful writer and critic, William H. Pritchard. Your fondness for Powell reminded me of this piece by Pritchard, which I think is one of his best. I was inspired to start on the "Dance" for the first time after reading Pritchard's review.


    John Wing

  3. Real readers love to re-read.

    I didn’t always know this. I just knew that I had favorite books -- books I loved to pick up again, and again, and again.

    And then, when I was about 12 or fourteen, someone asked me how I could enjoy re-reading a book, since. After all, I already knew how it turned out.

    Real readers read for many reasons – finding out what happens is only one.

    On your recommendation, Webster, I will try Powell. I may not have your taste for tales of the products of upper crust boarding schools, or for the convoluted prose you quoted, but the astringent humor embedded in that excerpt is appealing.

    Among my favorite re-reads:

    Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, for its depiction of friendship, taut prose, and utterly convincing depiction of the early 19th century British Navy

    Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (and the Hobbit), for an imagined world of beauty and loss, its profound moral compass, and for being so much better than the Peter Jackson films.

    Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, another profoundly moral book, especially when Huck decides that he will go to Hell rather than betray Jim. Brilliant use of the naïve voice.

    Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Maybe not great literature, but a terse meditation on human pride and its consequences.

  4. Hey EPG, good to hear from you again! I am on volume 8 of Aubrey Maturin, must return to it. And same goes for Tolkien. Never could get into Canticle first time around. Will have to try again. And Huck, well, at least twice more before I die, God willing!


If you have trouble posting comments, please log in as Anonymous and sign your comment manually.